Saturday, April 02, 2005

No Excuses

Yesterday we had an excellent talk by Bonnie Kent on Aquinas's view of incontinence (moral, not urinary) and weakness of will. The basic gist of her paper is that most commentators on Aquinas on this point make the mistake of reading him as if he were giving an explanation of cases of weakness of will. But Kent noted (and rightly, I think) that Aquinas's real concern is responsibility, and this cuts entirely in the opposite direction. We have a tendency to try to treat weakness of will as an excuse for this or that fault - in other words, we try to find a way in which weakness of will is somehow explained by something prior. But while Aquinas allows explanation of weakness of will in the sense that we can characterize it, and say something about what's going into it, ultimately weakness of will is just our own negligence. In other words, weakness of will doesn't explain this or that fault; it usually is this or that fault. And the best you can get in terms of an explanation is simply that you didn't act in accordance with your responsibilities, period. Or in other words: don' go looking to Aquinas to try to come up with an account of weakness of will that gets you off the hook by pointing out what's responsible for your weakness. His whole point is that you are responsible for your weakness.

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